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A step-by-step guide to becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)

Registered nursing positions comprise the highest percentage of employment among health care practitioners nationwide, with a force of more than 2.5 million active workers in 2009, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that their numbers are expected to grow. With a 22 percent increase in projected employment between 2008 and 2018 translating to nearly 600,000 new jobs in the sector, more and more people are wondering how to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). This guide details the usual steps for the process, as well as a few useful tips that might help you on your way.

1. Receive a high school diploma or equivalency degree

All paths to becoming an advanced practice registered nurse begin with a high school education. If you've yet to complete this step, several online education programs offer coursework that can help you gain the essential knowledge that a high school diploma signifies.

2. Complete an Associate or Bachelor of Science degree program

Completing an Associate or Bachelor of Science degree program is the next step. An associate degree can be sufficient for some positions, and certain hospital facilities even offer diploma programs that train and certify aspiring registered nurses. However, in many cases, a bachelor's degree is preferable; it can help qualify RNs for a wider range of positions, and can even help you learn important skills relevant to the next step on our list.

3. Pass the GRE and NCLEX-RN

All registered nurses must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, known in the field as the NCLEX-RN, in order to earn a nursing license. Maintaining a career in the industry while getting the education necessary to become an advanced practice registered nurse could easily be beneficial to a student's future career prospects. The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is required of all students who wish to pursue a master's degree.

4. Earn a Master of Science Degree in Nursing (MSN)

A post-graduate education is meant to convey specialized instruction to help a registered nurse advance to an advanced practice registered nurse. It's during this step that an aspiring APRN usually decides on his or her preferred branch of advanced nursing, typically choosing between nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA) and certified nurse midwife (CNM).

The Master of Science in Nursing degree track usually takes about 24 months to complete. Some students are even able to complete the degree requirements in 18 months or fewer, depending on the student and the institution. Universities that offer online classes may allow students to extend the duration of the program, in order to best match each student's amount of available time per semester.

5. Become certified as an advanced practice registered nurse

In addition to the federally required registered nurse certification, APRNs must uphold specific licensing requirements for their chosen specialty. Further federal certification is often needed, and state licensing boards may ask advanced practice registered nurses to pass state-sanctioned examinations.

The BLS reports the median annual wage for registered nurses was $63,750 in 2009, with excellent job opportunities expected from 2008 to 2018. As the field of advanced practice nursing continues to grow, dedicated APRNs nationwide are performing the delicate and essential responsibilities of their profession with skill and patience, certain that the work they are doing is contributing to a better overall quality of life for their communities.

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